Oedipus Rex

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Seen June 30 2015, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Ontario (first preview)

Written by Sophocles, translated by Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay

Directed by Daniel Brooks

When leaving the Tom Patterson Theatre last night, a gentleman behind us remarked ‘I hope this gets good reviews. I liked it.’. Let’s see what I can do about that, even though I doubt he was talking about amateur blogs.

The play is a rather short one, running one hour 45 minutes. It also sports the longest list of warnings I can remember having seen at the entrance, ranging from the usual haze, smoke and profanity to prolonged full nudity. There is no Intermission, so consider braving the washroom queue.

I thought the story of Oedipus was well-known, but overhearing some patrons in the theatre, it seems  a spoiler warning is needed after all. I am also going to massively break my ‘no production spoilers’ rule, so be warned. Please bear in mind that this was the first preview, so things might still be tweaked.

At the start of the play, there’s a metal rolling table with matching desk chair on stage, with 6 (I think) chairs on either long side of the thrust stage. Those are used throughout the play as needed, along with very few other props.

Gord Rand’s king Oedipus appears in an egg shell coloured suit, in stark contrast to the dark grey suited citizens. The entire setting looked a lot like a CEO meeting with members of the board, although the percentage of women would have been too optimistic for that. For quite some time, Oedipus and the red robed priestess are the only ones wearing colour.

Yanna McIntosh and Lally Cadeau get to wear blue for a short time and Jocasta and Oedipus’ young daughters Antigone and Ismene innocent white. Along with some dramatic red lighting when things get bloody, the only other splash of colour is Nigel Bennett’s Teiresias who is a true ray of hippyish sunshine in the play’s sea of grey and proves the saying that there are no small parts right once again.

The industrial corporate setting is supported by a repetitive, monotone sound design that frankly started to grate very early on. At least it allowed my poor sister who caught a cold to sneeze and blow her nose undetected once she had figured out the pattern. I was sitting right next to her and was suprised about the amount of tissues amassed at the end.

The other thing I wasn’t too thrilled about falls into the sound category as well. Having the citizens use a microphone for their declarations seemed unnecessary and frankly was mixed so poorly, especially when Brad Hodder was at the mic, that it was physically painful.

The performances were solid across the board with Nigel Bennett standing out as mentioned above, as well as Christopher Morris. Actually, his portrayal of steadfast Kreon was what I would have liked to see in Hamlet’s Horatio.

However, all the cast’s combined effort would have been naught without titular Oedipus pulling his weight. Gord Rand really knocked it out of the park and was believable from brash, almost arrogant king in the beginning, growing more and more nervous throughout the play. The desparation brought on by having his suspicions confirmed right up to the jarring finale that has Oedipus blind, bleeding and naked begging to be banished to save the people of Thebes from the plague had everyone at the edges of their seats. Cudos also to the make up department; I couldn’t entirely figure out how the eyes were done for the finale.

All in all, it was a good production elevated by a phenomenal lead actor. I’m looking forward to reading the reviews to see if anything changed once the play officially opens. For now, I am glad we decided to stay in Stratford long enough to catch Oedipus Rex and Possible Worlds.

She Stoops to Conquer

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Written by Oliver Goldsmith

Directed by Martha Henry

Seen June 25 2015, Avon Theatre, Stratford Ontario

This post Restauration comedy was the first in our trio of comedies. I am actually not that big a fan of the genre and often find dramatic plays funnier (see Hamlet), but this almost screwball comedy made for a nice evening of light entertainment.

At least I am categorising as ‘light’, because otherwise I’d have to ask why Continue reading

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

2014-09-06 16.06.31 Seen: September 5, Festival Theatre

Cast: Bethany Jillard, Liisa Repo-Martell, Tara Rosling, Mike Shara, Scott Wentworth, Maev Beaty, Michael Blake, Michael Spencer-Davis, Derek Moran, Stephen Ouimette, Karl Ang, Lally Cadeau, Keith Dinicol, Victor Ertmanis, Brad Hodder, Evan Buliung, Jonathan Goad, Chick Reid, Charlie Rose Neis, Hazel Martell-Abraham, Graci Leahy, Isabella Castillo, Brooklyn Rickert, Josh Buchwald, Savita Brickman-Maxwell, Gabriel Long, Josue Laboucane, Thomas Olajide, Thomas Ryder Payne

Directed by Chris Abraham

One of the countless things I love so much about the Stratford Festival is that you never know what you are getting and was that true for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upon entering the auditorium, you are part of a garden party wedding, with decorations at the end of every second aisle and actors mingling with the patrons coming in until the play starts. That’s about as far as I will go concerning production spoilers (except for some info that was revealed in the Q&A after the performance) because I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone who is still going to see this play.

The best way to describe this production is probably that you have to see it to believe it – which also fits Evan Buliung’s Titania. Buliung and Jonathan Goad are alternating the roles of Titania and Oberon. September 5, Buliung was the swishy-dressed Titania, while Goad seemed to have a lot of fun playing a deliciously diabolical Oberon. As much as Stephen Ouimette dialled down his melancholy fool in King Lear, he cranked it up to 11 as Daddio of the Patio – better known as Bottom – in this one. He really got to show off his comedic chops, as did Mike Shara as Demetrius, Liisa Repo-Martell as Helena, Bethany Jillard as Hermia, Tara Rosling as Lysander and Chick Reid as Puck.

In case you are planning to see this play with a theatre-reluctant Star Wars fan, there is something in there for those too. I mentioned in my review of Man of La Mancha that I never laughed so much in a theatre as few years back at Pirates of Penzance at the Avon. That was nothing compared to last night. My abs and face hurt from laughing so hard for such a long time. There is a healthy dose of irony and sarcasm in the play and all the chaos is performed so perfectly, time flies by and suddenly it’s over.

The shortest way to sum up this production is ‚utterly brilliant‘.

Before I go on to the spoilerish As from the Q&A, one note for those who might be interested: there will be an ASL performance on September 20.

Bethany Jillard and Evan Buliung kindly participated in a Q&A after Friday’s performance. One of the first questions was if this production was going to be filmed. Disappointingly, it is not which is a crying shame. And don’t try to tell me it’s because of the music rights, I know there’s a way to clear this stuff, I used to do it.

One other question that tied in with something we actually experienced during the show was if there had been backlash for the production being rather progressive. Sadly, the reply was a clear ‚yes‘. Apparently the fact that there are same-sex couples and a guy in a dress causes patrons to yell out things, leave to come back and shout ‚may God have mercy on your souls‘ then leave again, and entire school classes to walk out. A lady behind us started to shout ‚this is ridiculous‘ at the use of sign language. Lady, if you don’t like it, shut up and air your grievances during interval or after the show, not during. Also please refrain from then being as noisy a possible, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable once you’re older than 2. The couple in front of us left during interval, every one else around us however seemed to have the time of their lives.

I was flabbergasted that school classes were walking out. Maybe teachers unable or unwilling to have serious discussions with their students after a visit to the theatre should think about what kind of values they are supposedly teaching. I’m 38 now and sometimes I really think we are going backwards.

On an entirely different note; I had no idea there were not enough signs in ASL to actually sign Shakespeare properly. The actors had to develop and improvise some things with their interpreters, who are currently working on an encyclopedia that is supposed to make Shakespeare accessible in the future. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still on until October 11, click here for tickets: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24197&prodid=52393

King Lear

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Seen: September 4 (Matinée), Festival Theatre, Stratford Ontario

Cast: Colm Feore, Maev Beaty, Sara Farb, Liisa Repo-Martell, Stephen Ouimette, Jonathan Goad, Scott Wentworth, Evan Buliung, Brad Hodder, Michael Blake, Mike Shara, Thomas Olajide, Karl Ang, Derek Morgan, Xuan Fraser, Robert King, Josue Laboucane, Gordon S. Miller, Michael Spencer-Davis

Directed by Antoni Cimonlino

This was our second King Lear this year as well as the second one we have seen in Stratford. Even though the last time we saw this play here – also in the Festival Theatre – the production was underwhelming (no actor taking on the titular role should be allowed to direct it as well), it was never a question whether we wanted to see this production or not. Firstly, it’s Lear, secondly, the cast list is insane. Stratford regulars Colm Feore, Stephen Ouimette, Jonathan Goad, Scott Wentworth, Evan Buliung and Mike Shara on one stage was just too good to pass up.

Speaking of insane: not only is this version of Lear definitely cookoo (in contrast to Simon Russell Beale’s who was suffering from dementia), but so are the performances. I’ve seen Colm Feore in a lot of Stratford productions before, but this was an entirely different league.  No matter if he was angry, mad or desperate, he was always absolutely believable. Little touches like the left boot not being pulled up properly after the journey from Goneril to Regan helped illustrate the downward spiral.

It was great to see Scott Wentworth again, who was superb as Gloucester as well as Stephen Ouimette as a nicely understated fool. Actually, Jonathan Goad (still my favourite Iago) as Kent was a lot funnier than the fool.

The thunderstorm before and after intermission was extremely well done (and went on more quitely in the auditorium throughout the break). The only issue with it was that some people in the audience around us had trouble hearing what was being said on stage and yelled over the noise to ask each other who was on stage and what they were saying, so the actors were drowned out by those ‚considerate‘ folks.

That the behaviour of select members of the audience is the only bad thing I can say about this production should speak volumes. The play extended its run until October 25, so if you have a chance to go to Stratford and see this production, go online now and book your tickets before they are gone.  http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/BoxOffice/calendar.aspx?id=85

Still to come: Midsummernight’s Dream, Mother Courage, King John (all Stratford), The Crucible (Old Vic, London) and Richard III (Trafalgar, London)